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January 27, 2016 04:00 PM

Lawmakers Discussing Hartford-Related Bills

Hartford, SD

The city of Hartford is at a standstill.  So many council members have resigned that the City Council can no longer meet.

For months, KELOLAND News has been following the controversy in Hartford. Now, the issues have made their way to Pierre.

In November, Hartford Citizens presented enough valid signatures for a Mayoral Recall Election.

The City Council voted to reject the petition.

Doyle Johnson, who at the time was Council President, voted twice, once for himself and once for the absent Mayor. Potential legislation would prevent both of those things from happening.

The struggle inside Hartford City Hall has caught the attention of lawmakers in Pierre. Senator Scott Fiegen, who is also the mayor of Dell Rapids, saw the November Vote and thought it didn't seem right. But when he look at the state law, he realized it could be interpreted that way. He wants to make sure it doesn't happen again in Hartford or any other South Dakota city.

"When the citizens of a community don't necessarily like the decisions of their elected officials this is the recourse they have. This is due process, and by the event that look place it kind of took it out of their hands and didn't give them that option," Fiegen said.

That's why Fiegen is the primary sponsor of Senate Bills 64 and 65. 64 changes the voting power of an alderman. If the Mayor is not present to vote, the president or chair of a City Council still only gets one vote.

Senate Bill 65 deals with procedure for a municipal recall petition. It gives a more clear understanding of what a council can do with the petitions. Under the bill, councilors would only be able to challenge the signatures, not the reason behind the petition.

These bills were in front of a committee Wednesday in Pierre.

"This has been our experience and this is what happened and so wanted to share that with them and help make it clear," Menning said.

One of the men testifying at the Capitol was Hartford Resident Jeremy Menning. He's one the men who helped collect the signatures for the petition. He's seen the problems firsthand, and he's happy to see the lawmakers take an interest in preventing future controversy.

"At least now it can be clear not just for us but hopefully for every community going forward, because it was unfortunate how this one worked out and how things happen here but going forward we hope that everything is clear so that nobody has to interpret what they think should happen," Menning said.

Committees looked at both bills. Senate Bill 65 passed with a 5-0 vote. It will be on the Senate Floor soon.

Senate Bill 64 is still working out a few amendments. The committee heard the testimony, but won't vote on it until next week.

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